Boris Johnson took a reporter’s phone and put it in his pocket after refusing to look at a photo of a child who had to sleep on a hospital floor.
The Prime Minister was being interviewed by ITV News political correspondent Joe Pike, who asked Mr Johnson to look at a photo of four-year-old Jack, whose mother Sarah Williment covered him with coats to keep warm as he waited for a bed at Leeds General Infirmary.
She had taken him there last Tuesday fearing he had pneumonia.
Mr Johnson did not look down at the photo on Mr Pike’s phone, instead saying he would “study it later” as he attempted to steer the conversation on to Tory investment in the NHS.
Tried to show @BorisJohnson the picture of Jack Williment-Barr. The 4-year-old with suspected pneumonia forced to lie on a pile of coats on the floor of a Leeds hospital.
— Joe Pike (@joepike) December 9, 2019
In a clip of the interview posted on Twitter, Mr Pike said to Mr Johnson: “You refuse to look at the photo. You’ve taken my phone and put it in your pocket Prime Minister.”
Mr Johnson then took the phone out of his pocket, looked at the photo on the screen, and said: “It’s a terrible, terrible photo. And I apologise obviously to the families and all those who have terrible experiences in the NHS.
“But what we are doing is supporting the NHS, and on the whole I think patients in the NHS have a much, much better experience than this poor kid has had.
“That’s why we’re making huge investments into the NHS, and we can only do it if we get Parliament going, if we unblock the current deadlock, and we move forward.”
At the end of the interview, Mr Johnson said: “I’m sorry to have taken your phone. There you go.”
In a Q and A on Monday afternoon, Mr Johnson was asked twice about the phone incident, and on both occasions refused to directly address what was being asked, instead choosing to talk about Tory plans to invest in the NHS.
He was first asked by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg if the Tories understand the concerns of the people of the north of England, particularly in light of his struggle to look at a photo of Jack.
He replied: “I’m very proud of what we’re doing to rebuild Leeds General Infirmary and it’s one of the hospitals we will rebuild from the beginning, it’ll be a fantastic project.”
Mr Johnson again repeated his NHS pledges and said he wants to “transform” it.
The second question on the incident came from ITV correspondent Paul Brand, who said: “One of your biggest challenges in this election is to persuade people that you really do care, that you really are trustworthy.
“And yet today when you’re shown that picture of the four-year-old boy on the floor of an A&E department you take the phone away and put it in your pocket, what does that say about how much you really care?”
Mr Johnson said he had already answered that question, adding: “We are not only investing in children’s services in Leeds but we’re also rebuilding the whole Leeds Infirmary from top to bottom.
“And we can do that because we’re now putting the biggest ever investment into the NHS.
“What I don’t want to see is a fantastic programme that is going to unite and level up our country being blocked again.”
Irish broadcaster Bryan Dobson, who presents on RTE, retweeted Mr Pike’s clip and suggested he had a similar experience with the Prime Minister.
He wrote: “Your PM has form on this, Joe. He grabbed my notes during a public interview about Brexit in Dublin last January. I suggested he hang on to them as they might come in handy. B”
Your PM has form on this, Joe. He grabbed my notes during a public interview about Brexit in Dublin last January. I suggested he hang on to them as they might come in handy. B https://t.co/maDxhKxfQk
— Bryan Dobson (@BryanMIreland) December 9, 2019
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Refusing to even look at an image of a child suffering because of Conservative cuts to the NHS is a new low for Boris Johnson. It’s clear he could not care less.
“Don’t give this disgrace of a man five more years of driving our NHS into the ground.
“Sick toddlers like Jack deserve so much better.”
Liberal Democrat welfare spokesman Tim Farron said: “This is the moment the mask slipped. When confronted with the human impact of his Government’s failure to properly fund our NHS, Boris Johnson chose to look away.
“This shocking lack of empathy shows why Johnson is not fit to be prime minister. He simply doesn’t care about patients or their families being catastrophically let down by this Conservative government.”
Earlier, Mr Johnson apologised to “everybody who has a bad experience” in the NHS after the story of four-year-old Jack emerged.
Ms Williment told the Daily Mirror her son was eventually moved to a ward, where he waited for five hours on a trolley before a bed was found at 3am.
Diagnosed with flu and tonsillitis, Jack was allowed to be taken home at lunchtime.
Ms Williment, 34, told the Mirror she would now switch allegiance and vote Labour in Thursday’s election, owing to her concerns about the state of the NHS.
She said: “I am frustrated about the system and the lack of beds, which I am presuming is due to a lack of funding to the NHS to deliver the services that are required.”
Asked about the incident during an interview on LBC, the Prime Minister said: “Of course I sympathise very much and I apologise to everybody who has a bad experience.
“By and large I think the NHS do an amazing job and I think that they deserve all praise for the service they provide – but they do need investment and that’s why we’re doing it now.
“But they need investment from a one nation government that really cares and understands – that’s us that cares and understands – and you need long-term funding.”
Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We are extremely sorry that there were only chairs available in the treatment room, and no bed. This falls below our usual high standards, and for this we would like to sincerely apologise to Jack and his family.”